There was a time when I was afraid of everything. It was paralyzing. I was raised by a fearful mother, who passed her fear on to me. My mother taught me to be afraid of strangers, which I guess is understandable in New York City. She also taught me to be afraid of nature, what little there is in NYC (I love nature; provided I’m safety protected from the realities of actual nature—like bugs and dirt and stuff). She taught me to be afraid of men, my body and other people’s motives. She taught me to fear rejection. I was taught to fear people in authority, dark corners, what others really thought of me and what they said behind my back. I was taught to fear travel to distant places and trying new foods, styles and experiences. In the beginning, I learned well. As a child, I was so shy and fearful that I wouldn’t come out from underneath the dining table when we had guests to dinner. Today, the child I was would have been shipped off for psychological testing and therapy, lots of therapy. I was not normal (one could argue that this is still true, I know.)
I was definitely still scared of my mom back in those days. I was almost 18 years old before I finally asked the $64,000 question: “What could she actually do to me?” When I realized the answer was, “Not much, without risking shame and embarrassment for her,” my world tilted on its axis— positively. But I became more confident in my cognitive capabilities, which translated into more general confidence. As I grew more accomplished academically and intellectually, I became less fearful; for me, knowledge and analytical skills translated into power and control, which helped me feel less afraid.
But I was still an insecure wreck when it came to men and romance. Insecurity is just another word for fear. I was afraid men wouldn’t like me once they really knew me. So I hid my authentic self. I was afraid men wouldn’t find me attractive if they saw me without makeup. So I never went without. I was afraid that if I didn’t flaunt my body, no one would want it. I remember one particularly awful episode when I spent an entire night calling around looking for my boyfriend at the time, only to discover he’d spent the night with another woman. When I finally got him on the phone, at 4:00 AM, after his other girlfriend picked up and handed him the phone —”Oh, sure. He’s right next to me; let me give him the phone…”— I apologized for bothering him because I was so scared he’d leave me.
I’m happy to report that I’m not that bad anymore. Fear is still my companion – I used Find My Phone last night to locate my husband, who is traveling, because he hadn’t texted after dinner and I was afraid he was dead. I know, I know, silly—he thought so too, but my sainted husband is quite used to my paranoia about his safety. But mostly— mostly—I can face my fears and put them to rest. I don’t let fear run my life (how I wish I could go back in time and give that no-good, cheating rat bastard a piece of my mind—except I just found out that he died last month, so that won’t work).
Today, I can act as if I’m not afraid. I fly. I endure boats. I tell people things they need to hear even if I’m terrified they will shun me as a result. I no longer fear discomfort. I don’t love it, but I can tolerate it. Because it turns out that many of the things we fear are mostly just unpleasant, and we like to avoid discomfort. But life is full of unpleasant realities, and facing these unpleasantries (including dirt and bugs in the wilds of my own back yard) is what makes life worth living.
Facing our fears and doing it anyway, whatever ‘it’ is, is the secret sauce of life. It can be letting go of a bad relationship (like the rat bastard), or a bad job, or a friendship that no longer serves. Fear of letting go is a big one, I’ve found. Almost as big as fear of holding on.
So I appreciate the opportunity to see how the other half—the paranormal one—lives and deals with fear. I’ll continue to enjoy Lissianna Argeneau in A Quick Bite, and wait to see how she overcomes her fear of blood (‘cause I suspect she does). And I’ll continue to think about how I can face fear and prevent it from running— or ruining— my life as it did for my poor, misguided, fearful ‘Mommie Dearest’. The good news is, she’s not afraid anymore, and neither am I. I get to enjoy life at the table rather than under it.